Wednesday / May 29

CCSS Pushback: Is It Well-Deserved or a Misunderstanding?

CCSS map

Contributed by Joe Crawford

About everywhere one looks or reads these days, some entity is pushing back against the CCSS, questioning their validity, their development process, and even, ultimately, their relevance to and very application to improve student performance. Many express fears that this is the first step to a national curriculum, thus ending a long-standing tradition of local control. Pushback, doubt, and even resistance are a natural part of the fundamental character of America—we tend to distrust others making decisions for us and enforcing those decisions on us. This is a natural tendency and part of the American fabric, so let’s take a look at the CCSS and discuss one particularly important aspect of the CCSS—are they an attempt to set (do I mean force?) a national curriculum on America?

In order to discuss this issue, it is imperative to first make it crystal clear the difference between standards and curriculum—a fundamental difference that is key to the curriculum, instruction, and assessment system in every education system in this country. Before anyone can even discuss improving student performance, they must first agree upon the standards by which student success will be judged—do we want students to do 50 sit-ups? 100?—let’s first set the standard for success. The CCSS are trying to do just that—define and share the academic standards that must be met to define success, NOT define or set the curriculum or instruction that will take us there. That is fundamental to the very nature of all standards. The CCSS are trying to set those standards by which success will be judged—what are the specific standards to be met, what do those look like at the various grade levels, and are CCSS doing that at the national level?

What skills do we as a system expect ALL of our students to know and be able to do? That is the fundamental question the CCSS is trying to answer, and every district in the country must now develop processes, curriculum, and instruction materials to help their very diverse student clientele meet those standards. The beauty of the CCSS or any other set of standards is that they do not dictate curriculum, instructional methodologies, sequence, or topics. While there are some curricular materials and suggested/example work mentioned, none of those materials are given as mandatory requirements of the CCSS, but rather as examples of appropriate kinds of materials—a suggestion for consideration, not a mandate for adoption.

That is key—do not over-read what the CCSS is saying or requiring. The local district is free to design its own curriculum, instruction, and assessments around those national skills as they deem appropriate for their own local students. These CCSS are being presented as a document to define and come to consensus on the SKILLS we, as a nation, want all of our children to know and be able to do at each grade level through eighth grade and then during the high school experience. That list of CCSS standards is broad and inclusive—some argue too inclusive and representing too many skills for our students to master in the current 180-day school year—but nonetheless a set of skills and expectations, basically devoid of curriculum, instruction, or assessment requirements—just the requisite skills.

That is the true meaning and thrust of the CCSS—identifying specific skill sets, and scaffolding those skill sets by grade level to help local educators work with skills that will prepare our students for success in the 21st Century and beyond. For example, if we want our students to use number sense in high school to do complex math, what does that “look like” in first grade? Second grade? What is a natural sequencing of skills through the grade levels to maximize learning and reflect how students learn? Those are the kinds of questions the CCSS are designed to ask and answer—NOT curriculum or instruction issues—those curriculum, instruction and assessment issues are to be resolved at the local level through the implementation, feedback, and learning process that comes with local implementation.

If we are to teach children to draw inference from text, that is the standard—the curriculum materials, the instructional methodologies, local assessments, or any other part of the teaching/learning cycle are up to the local institution to determine. The Catholic schools are free to use the materials they feel are foundational to their mission, while the public schools in New York and Arizona are free to do the same—local people making local curriculum, instruction, and assessment decisions based on their situation, student needs, and resources. The critical issue then becomes: are these local curriculum, instruction, and assessment decisions enabling students to meet the standards as outlined in the CCSS? That is the way these standards are designed to work—set the standards, NOT determine the local curriculum, instruction, and assessments.

Districts need a process and software to use their own people to examine the CCSS and use those standards to create realistic end-of-year learning targets for each grade level or course, based on the CCSS. These end-of-year targets can then be used to create within-year learning targets, a kind of pacing guide, if you will—all standards-based, but not containing any content, instruction, or assessment information—just standards. This local development work can be done in three days and must be vertically articulated to ensure skills are sequenced the way children best learn. These standards are then shared with teachers, and a curriculum mapping process then allows all teachers to design, share, and compare various curricula, instruction, and assessment approaches to see what works best with local students.

This work of converting the CCSS to useable, effective, articulated curriculum must be done by every district in the country to allow for the local control and meeting of local student needs that are so foundational to education.  Districts must meet the standards, but districts are free, and actually must be encouraged, to develop their own curriculum, instruction, and assessment cycle.  Districts are now free, as they always have been, to design their own curriculum, instruction, and assessment system to meet the needs of their students to master these national standards.  That is the challenge that lies ahead.

The one-size-fits-all assessment system that measures student growth on end-of-year standards that do not, necessarily, reflect the skills, nor the level of complexity, that the teachers have just taught is ending. We must define those learning standards through within-year learning goals that scaffold to the end-of-year goal and then develop local assessment systems to measure those within-year goals so we will have true formative assessments that measure student progress toward learning the CCSS. As Ron Edmunds said so many years ago, “We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us… We already know more than we need to do that… Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.”

If you would like to continue this conversation or discuss ways to do this work, feel free to contact me at Have a great new year and thanks for all you do for children.

View the original post on Partners 4 Results.


Joe Crawford
Joe Crawford is a retired Milken Educator who has spent his entire career in diverse settings improving student performance through curriculum and instruction alignment. He is currently specializing aligning the CCSS and the new assessment system. He is the author of Aligning Your Curriculum to the Common Core State Standards.


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  • I believe you have done an effective job Joe of articulating what seems to many to be a confounding issue. The piece on assessment is especially spot on!

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